A woman is usually described as a man’s better half. Is she the better half or is she the only half that matters? Is she a half at all? A man is usually measured by the success he achieves in life, by his material possessions, and by how “high” he has climbed the social ladder. Part of this self-proclaimed success in this “man’s world” is a nice car, nice house, nice business, nice children, nice wife, nice friends, nice holidays, nice toys, etc., etc. (Note that the wife is listed under possessions.) Very rarely is the wife acknowledged or given credit for the man’s success. What is the reason for this malady?
Perceptions of Women
Why do some men treat women in total fairness and give them the respect that they deserve, while other men treat their wife as a mere possession? Islam very firmly and clearly granted all women the God–given right of equality and fair treatment. Before this era, women were treated as inferior citizens. In Europe, the theory was that women were a sub-species between ape and human, and others propagated the notion that women do not have souls. A female child was treated with total disdain and was even buried alive to hide the “humiliation” of the parents.
Islam raised the status of women to give them full recognition and to destroy these ill-conceived myths devised and propagated by men. However, in today’s era, we tend to regard ourselves as living in the “modern-age”; there have been various feminist campaigns and women’s rights organizations that feel that it is necessary to proclaim the independence of women. Why is this necessary? Is there a need for such organizations? Are women treated equally in our society? Are women treated with respect in our society? Are women being abused? This essay deals with a few of these topics, albeit on a superficial level. This discussion is not meant to be critical of anyone, but simply to present my individual viewpoint, which is subject to correction.
The Modern Day Woman
Many women to day are independent, successful, educated, professional, and self-sufficient. These are the standards whereby we measure “success” and people with these characteristics are what we regard as “intelligent” as opposed to “uneducated.” However, careful analysis reveals that the woman of the house fulfills the following roles:
1. She has to be a wife to her husband.
2. She has to be a mother to her children.
3. She is a teacher, teaching her children between right and wrong.
4. She is a tutor, assisting with homework.
5. She is a psychologist, using her intellect in daily struggles with husband and children.
6. She is a counselor, counseling the children when a bully hits them.
7. She is a financier, budgeting the household expenses.
8. She is a chef, preparing the meals.
9. She is a baker, baking on special occasions.
10. She is a tailor, mending clothes.
11. She is a driver, ferrying the kids to and from school.
12. She is a buyer and store clerk, ensuring that all basic necessities are in the house.
13. She is a switchboard operator, answering the constantly ringing phone.
14. She is a receptionist, answering the door and receiving guests and visitors.
15. She is a waitress, feeding everyone at mealtime before she feeds herself.
Considering the above multi-faceted roles of our wives/mothers/sisters in society, it really surprises me when a woman is asked what job she has and her typical reply is “Oh, I don’t work. I just sit at home. I’m a housewife.” Housewife indeed! This “housewife” is actually the CEO, the general manager of your house. She is the senior executive and fully fledged board member of the fraternity that you call home. She ensures that everything (most of the time) runs smoothly with military precision. (Sadly however, some women fritter their life away by sleeping, shopping, and gossiping.)
On the few occasions when things do not go as expected, men tend to let the wives know in no uncertain terms that they are dissatisfied (by verbal abuse, or sometimes even physical abuse). But how often have we informed these same women about the times when things do go well? How often do we give compliments? Do we counsel gently and encourage wisely, or do we assume that “there is no point talking to her … after all she is just a woman.”
The Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) counseled us to take care of our women and treat them gently. A woman has been described as being akin to a rib—the natural shape of a rib is bent. If you try to straighten it, it will break. “The woman is like a rib; if you try to straighten her, she will break. So if you want to get benefit from her, do so while she still has some crookedness” (Al-Bukhari).
However, because of our cultural influences pertaining from our forefathers who lived in the Indo-Pak subcontinent, we sometimes forget that women are not second-class citizens. Women all over the world have been discriminated against at some stage or another in history in virtually every society. The Qur’an established the God-given rights of equality to women in no uncertain terms as early as the seventh century. Women were given their liberation and given their rightful status in society. This status is ordained by Allah Most High. As late as the 19th century, women in Europe were still regarded as an inferior species and the very first charter in Europe was being formulated to give women certain (but not all) rights. Today, in the New Millennium, women all over the world are still being discriminated against. Women have rebelled against this discrimination for a fight for “equal rights” and the “liberation movement”—rights that were already given to Muslim women 1,400 years ago! Unfortunately, the women of the West have developed a misguided concept of “liberation” to their own detriment—a “liberated” woman is someone who can do anything that a man does. This definition in fact enslaves women rather than freeing them. Why must women strive to be like men?
Why do men set the standards towards which everyone seeks to aspire? A woman who strives to be more like a man—is she really more of a woman? Is femininity achieved by being more masculine? Here are some examples of this striving towards masculinity:
1. Women are taking up occupations that were previously male dominated, working, for example, as miners, mechanics, electricians, plumbers.
2. Women are taking up gay liberation with the notion of “who needs a man?”
3. Women are delaying motherhood because they first want to follow their career and enjoy life.
4. Some women are paying surrogate mothers to bear their children because they do not have the time to have their own children.
5. Women are opting for sperm banks to impregnate them, with the notion that they do not need a man in their life.
6. Women are smoking, drinking alcohol, and taking drugs to give them “freedom” and make them more like men.
7. Women are tattooing themselves to look like fearsome male pirates or gang members.
Why do women feel this need to be more like men? What is so good about men that women try and copy them? More men than women are responsible for wars, crime, violence and mayhem! The quandary appears to be due to a lack of self-esteem among women. They have come to believe (through male-dominated ideas) that women are not equal to men, and they therefore feel this urge to prove the men “wrong.”
Unfortunately for Muslim women, our Muslim sisters read about this dilemma facing the Western women and accept this erroneous idea that they, too, need to be liberated. However, what our Muslim sisters fail to recognize is that they have already been given their liberation by Allah Most High. Now it is simply a matter of implementation of this God-given right. However, if our Muslim sisters emulate the Western women with their dilemma, our Muslim sisters will find themselves in a state of confusion that will shackle them forever. The Western women are currently confused by the following problems in their search for “equality”:
1. Women are now the bread-winners. The impact of this is that they hold down 9-to-5 jobs, come home late, and still have to cook, look after the children, etc. Unfortunately, in today’s economic climate, both parents have to work to earn a living.
2. Women who are career-orientated delay getting married or having children. This leads to more women getting married in their late 20s and in their 30s.
3. Children do not have a mother figure to look up to because both parents are working. They have no role models. Children therefore seek role models from their peers or the TV. In fact, in many homes, the TV is the babysitter. Can you imagine what kind of a future adult is being produced by having the TV as a guide?
4. Nuclear families are in vogue. An extended family is regarded as outdated. The children lose out because their grandparents are now strangers, and the parents lose out because they perceive grandparents and the children to be a “burden.”
5. In all the above scenarios, the children—the future society—are the victims.
Possible Solutions to the Above
1. Women should be encouraged to educate themselves, whatever their age. If you have a grandparent who is illiterate, take the time to teach her to read and write. The importance of literacy is vividly displayed from the Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him): he was prepared to pardon captives of war in exchange for their teaching Muslims how to read and to write. Education is the only way of breaking the shackles of ignorance and empowering our Muslim mothers, sisters, and daughters.
2. Muslim women must be proud to be mother’s of the Ummah. Children must be taught to have the utmost respect, care, kindness, and love for their mother.
3. Muslim women must educate their children about morals and ethics, encourage them to strive to do their best in every endeavor, and teach them that success is born out of sacrifice. Furthermore, it is the duty of parents to instill Islamic values in the future generation of Muslim, the innocent children of today. The children will mold themselves according to their foundation: Will they emulate the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him), or will they use the drug addict and rock star as their role model?
4. Fathers must encourage their daughters to seek an education to empower themselves. The best gift that parents can give their child is education.
5. Women must strive to be the best in any field of endeavor (education, sport, sciences, etc.) and uncover their true potential—but the intention must be clear.
6. Fathers must love, respect, and treat their daughters equally as they treat their sons. If there is inequality in the treatment, then the sons will grow up thinking that they should treat their future wives with the same inequality.
7. A Muslim woman must be proud of her status, her dressing, her religion, her culture, her lifestyle, and her strong Islamic values and principles. She should never ever be apologetic about her religion to anyone.
8. A woman must empower herself in her husband’s business and understand the nature of that business. This example is made vividly clear from the Prophet’s wife Khadijah (may Allah be pleased with her), who was an astute and successful businesswoman and equivalent to the Oppenheimers and Rockefellers of today. Therefore, it is advisable for a Muslim woman to understand the details about her husband’s business, even if it means going for a basic financial course and learning computers. If the husband dies tomorrow, who will run the business? Who will feed the kids? Will a potentially lucrative business close down because the woman was never empowered to understand the business? Furthermore, a man should give his wife a fair salary in his business or make her a full partner and let her share in the rewards.
9. A Muslim widow who is running a business should be empowered by the rest of the community by their support and purchase of her products. She is trying her best to survive by honest means. Please support her.
10. Finally, Muslims have a vital role to play to show to the rest of the world that Islam was the first religion to grant women their rightful high status in the community. Let us not taint our religious obligation with our cultural prejudices. It is time for action.
“Paradise lies at the feet of your mother.”